I darted over to Radhanath Swami’s room. There he was sitting, conversing with another devotee. I prostrated myself at Radhanath Swami’s feet and asked for his blessings to leave. “I am going. Now onwards I will come only on very special occasions,” I said. Radhanath shook his head in approval. Next moment, I was out of the room.
Once out, I climbed down the staircase and briskly walked along the courtyard to reach the gate of Radhagopinath Temple. Then stepping out into a narrow alley, I headed towards the bustling main street. All along I struggled to be resilient, but to no avail; I was burnt out by forceful sermons, and badly. I loved the temple, I loved Radhanath Swami, I loved the Hare Krishna mantra, I loved most practices of Bhakti Yoga, but I hated anyone encroaching on my free will. And a few devotees at the temple, I felt, did that with me. Now enough of it, I had decided; I couldn’t take it anymore. As I called for a taxi, I found in my heart no inclination to return.
Suddenly, from behind, I could hear screams, “Ashok, Ashok.” I turned around. Running up to me, a monk panted, “Radhanath Swami wants to have a word with you before you leave. He is waiting for you at the gate.” Straining my sight, I made out the frail figure of Radhanath Swami standing at the gate. How could I turn a deaf ear to his request? Escorted by the monk, I marched back through the alley.
As I drew closer to the gate, I could read concern written on Radhanath Swami’s face—in bold. It was an unforgettable visage.
Minutes later, I was sitting in Radhanath Swami’s room, and he sat facing me across a table. I learnt from him that at first he hadn’t registered what I had said after darting into his room. After I had stormed out, the devotee who had been conversing with him explained to him what I had meant. Immediately, Radhanath Swami had sprung up from his seat to stop me.
Now, he wanted to know why I was distraught. When I opened my heart, his expression soured with disgust. He didn’t like pressurizing anyone to do anything, nor did he like anyone in the temple do that; free will was the pivot on which bhakti, pure love for God, revolved.
We conversed from 9:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. All along he appreciated my sincerity on the spiritual path, and encouraged me to continue in all enthusiasm. He heard all my difficulties at the temple, and with the tenderness of a loving father, provided solutions from his mature understanding. Towards the end, he wrenched my heart off my chest, “Ashok, do you love me?” With emotion climbing in my throat, I said, “yes.” “You promise me that you won’t stop coming here,” he pleaded. I nodded. But he wasn’t satisfied. Clasping my hands, he brought me in front of the holy altar. Its doors were closed, as deities of Radha and Krishna were put to rest for the night. Still, he demanded in love, “Here, promise me that you won’t stop coming to the temple.” With tears brimming in my eyes I gave him my promise.
That was 22 years ago. Now, looking back, I wonder—that night, hadn’t Radhanath Swami also encroached on my free will?! He had, but that was an encroachment of love, something that the heart burns for, rather than burns out with.
And before I end, one more thing. Over the years, the congregation has grown in maturity. Now, following in the footsteps of Radhanath Swami, no one resorts to force while teaching bhakti yoga.